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  • Vodou in the Haitian Experience: A Black Atlantic Perspective ed. by Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon S. Cleophat
  • Lenny J. Lowe
Vodou in the Haitian Experience: A Black Atlantic Perspective. Edited by Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon S. Cleophat. New York: Lexington Books, 2016. ISBN: 9781498508315. 288 pp. US $95.00, paperback.

Celucien Joseph and Nixon Cleophat's Vodou in the Haitian Experience gathers a diverse set of contributions that not only explore "the socio-cultural and historical experiences of Haitians with the Vodou religion" but also reexamine Haitian Vodou's historical and cultural connections to Africa (2). The volume makes a valuable contribution to the study of Haitian cultural forms in two ways that correspond to the two directions of its Janusfaced approach. The first is the implicit claim that the lived experience of Haitian Vodou (i.e., its practices, its objects, its social bodies, etc.) ought to figure prominently in any representation of what Vodou is or is not. To this end, the first section, "Vodou, Anthropology, Art, Performance, and the Black Diaspora," directs our attention to the social, aesthetic, and material forms that populate Vodou as it is experienced in Haiti and the Dyaspora. The second important contribution is the recognition that Paul Gilroy's emphasis on "routes" over "roots" should not blind us to Haiti's deep and rich connections to several African cultural traditions.1 In other words, contributors to this volume offer a strong argument for a Black Atlantic model of routes and roots, and the second section, "Vodou and African Traditional Religions," focuses squarely on exploring these exciting and too often ignored connections to past and present African religious cultures. Chapters in this section range from interrogating more [End Page 305] familiar Yoruba and Kongo connections to pursuing promising new leads in Egyptian and Arab religion.

The chapters of the first section display the clearest emphasis on the "routes" of Haitian Vodou as they examine the crisscrossing paths and looping memories of mythic Africa that interlace with material realities and practices born out of colonialist violence and plantation slavery. Ann Mazzocca's chapter, for example, carefully examines the way that the ritual event at Souvnans and the sacred mapou tree serve as images of multiplicity and creolization even as they gesture towards a stable, mythical "Africa." Mazzocca concludes that similarly "rooted" movements, like folkloric dance and mizik rasin, ultimately show that "roots necessarily reference routes by which disparate elements, even entities, coincide in embodied presence, persistence, and performance" (31). In the second chapter, Kantara Souffrant evokes another Vodou symbol, the cosmogram, to describe the way that engagement with Yoruba and KiKongo tradition has led her and others of the second-generation Haitian Dyaspora to a reengagement with Vodou. Souffrant grounds the analysis of these returns in specific images and objects drawn from queer and feminist Haitian art in order to identify the potential of Vodou "as a critical gateway and language for articulating our sense of ourselves and our political engagements to Haiti and the larger world" (59). Here again, mythic Africa functions as a momentarily stable touchstone that effectively "circles back" (37) to a tradition abandoned and denigrated by the prior generation.

In her analysis of August Wilson's 1995 play Seven Guitars, Barbara Brewster Lewis employs Foucault's language of the "heterotopia" to name not only the perennial condition of transnationality that Haiti's Dyaspora embodies and lives within but also the revolutionary power contained in the disjuncture, which has "sprinkled its seeds even as far north as Pittsburgh and beyond" (83). The potential for power contained in the disjuncture of heterotopia is given a concrete case study in Charlotte Hammond's chapter, in which archival evidence illuminates the challenge posed by the Candio, an oblique archival figure known for his attention to details of attire and his habit of dressing in more traditionally feminine accoutrements. Hammond argues that such an aesthetic genre finds historical precedent in Yoruba tradition, is reiterated in Vodou, and poses a challenge to the "clear-cut social and gendered dichotomies of the plantation system" (94).

The second full section, which aims to consider connections between Vodou and African religions, raises a host of new...


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